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Definition - A mock title for a person, real or imaginary, who has or claims to have great influence or authority, or a burlesque title of an imaginary personage, a powerful personage or pretentious official.

This term was allegedly coined in 1753 by the playwright, actor and wit Samuel Foote, when he challenged an assertion made by fellow actor Charles Mackin who claimed to be able to recite any line he read once. On the spot Foote scribbled down the nonsense verse (shown below) and Mackin read it, but promptly refused to even attempt to try to memorise it.

So she went into the garden
to cut a cabbage-leaf
to make an apple-pie;
and at the same time
a great she-bear, coming down the street,
pops its head into the shop.
What! no soap?
So he died,
and she very imprudently married the Barber:
and there were present
the Picinnies,
and the Joblillies,
and the Garyulies,
and the great Panjandrum himself,
with the little round button at top;
and they all fell to playing the game of catch-as-catch-can,
till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots.

Quite how the word gained its current meaning is harder to ascertain, but apparently it didn't gain its comical meaning until the 19th century.

Weird Words - www.quinion.com/words/weirdwords
Word of the Week -community.gopbi.com/goldcoast/WOW_Archive/WOW_10_6_00.html

Since, according to my home node, this is my current level here at E2 and I had no idea what the word meant I thought I’d do some digging around. Well, not only is the term “Panjandrum” all that Teiresias describes it to be it also turns out that the term refers to yet another bizarre super secret weapons system designed by the British during World War II.

The Problem

The Germans had themselves plenty of time to establish well fortified defenses known as pillboxes all along the European coast . The problem was how to breach them. Conventional weapons didn’t have enough firepower and the loss of life and limb by charging men up the beach into a fusillade of enemy firepower seemed impractical. Surely there must be some way to get close enough to the pillboxes to destroy them?

The “Solution”

Deep within the bowels of the British Defense Department a plan was hatched. What say we construct a giant unmanned vehicle and strap upwards of four thousand pounds of explosives to it? The explosives would then detonate on impact and clear the way for the rest of the troops.

So here’s what happened. Picture if you will two giant wheels anywhere between ten to fifteen feet high. In the center, between the wheels was a giant crate that contained the explosives. The “vehicle” would be propelled by attaching upwards of sixty to seventy cordite rockets to each of the wheels. The goal was to point the contraption towards the pillboxes, ignite the rockets and stand by in awe as it hurtled forward at up to sixty miles an hour, The name itself, Panjandrum, is derived from the last line the poem described in the above w/u, “till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots.

Here is an image of what the proposed solution would look like.

What Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong

The prototype was developed under the air of secrecy however when the time came to test this newest of systems the location that was chosen also happened to be a beach in England that was pretty popular amongst the civilian population. Crowds gathered to watch the proceedings as the system was tested. In order to ensure that the gathered masses were safe, sand was used in place of explosives to replicate the amount of weight the vehicle would need to carry.

The test started out well enough but as the rockets were ignited and the vehicle picked up speed it began to careen all over the place. Since these were long before the days of guided missile systems all they could do was point the contraption in the right direction and hope for the best. To compound the issues, rockets also began flying off from the wheels and shooting off in every direction. I’d liken it to one of those fireworks displays where pinwheels go spinning around shooting flames this way and that..

Back to the Drawing Board

After a bit of tinkering here and there it was decided that a third wheel would added behind the crate in order to stabilize its path. That didn’t work either. During testing the vehicle did an immediate about face and headed out to sea.

It was then decided that steel cables would be put in place. They would straddle the crate in the center and be attached to the wheels in order to provide a bit more stability. Things were looking up.

The Final Test

In January of 1944 members of the Navy brass and assorted scientists gathered to watch and assess the success of their endeavors. Perhaps the best way to describe the events is in the words of somebody that was there. The following is the account given by Brian Johnson of the BBC

"At first all went well. Panjandrum rolled into the sea and began to head for the shore, the Brass Hats watching through binoculars from the top of a pebble ridge Then a clamp gave: first one, then two more rockets broke free: Panjandrum began to lurch ominously. It hit a line of small craters in the sand and began to turn to starboard, careering towards Klemantaski, who, viewing events through a telescopic lens, misjudged the distance and continued filming. Hearing the approaching roar he looked up from his viewfinder to see Panjandrum, shedding live rockets in all directions, heading straight for him. As he ran for his life, he glimpsed the assembled admirals and generals diving for cover behind the pebble ridge into barbed-wire entanglements. Panjandrum was now heading back to the sea but crashed on to the sand where it disintegrated in violent explosions, rockets tearing across the beach at great speed."

Why do I suddenly have visions from Monty Python dancing around in my head?

Needless to say, the project was soon scrapped…

The Fallout

Given the monumental failure of the Panjandrum and perhaps in order to save face there were claims that the project was always intended to fail. That it was to meant to distract to the Germans into thinking that a new weapons system would be built and they would have to alter their fortifications.

In the end, who knows? War does funny things to people, most of it not good.

In Conclusion

As I mentioned earlier in this w/u I didn’t know what the word Panjandrum even meant. In my quest for clarity I’ve become even more confused. Am I the so-called “person, real or imaginary, who has or claims to have great influence or authority, or a burlesque title of an imaginary personage, a powerful personage or pretentious official” as described in the original w/u or some obscure weapons system that was doomed to failure.

Only the Gods will know for sure.



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